TO BE honest, I’m rather impressed with the Swedish. I arrived at this conclusion while propped up on a stool at the IKEA bistro, chomping on chips which tasted distinctively of flat pack, and looking around at my IKEA surroundings. I had no doubt that Swedishness was the impetus behind all the pale woods and whites, and the pencil and measuring tape dispensing stands, and the fact that everything was called Orkôff and Inka, and the whole general air of ergonomic brilliance which just seemed so devastatingly Scandinavian. Even the staff, I thought, looked Swedish. In fact, one of them looked so much like an EU-compliant version of a certain aunt of mine that I nicknamed her “Nordic Aunty Jo” – but you just keep that to yourself.
I’m not sure why I brought that up, actually. It could have been because I was going to talk about a Swedish car, but that can’t be right. Because there seems to be a bit of a yawning chasm between the crisp, modern, ergonomic world of IKEA and the shoebox that I just witnessed crawling along the road with ‘Volvo’ emblazoned on the front, or even the more recent Scandinavian offerings which you sort of have to look at twice to make sure they’re not, dare I say it, no I daren’t, yes I dare – slightly French. Yes, they’re ergonomic and safer than walking around Pakistan in an Allah Akbar shirt, but they just aren’t the sort of thing you’d want to be seen puttering down the street in. Sort of like wearing a bike helmet with eyes painted on the back of it. Yes, it all makes sense, maybe, but you’d rather get swooped.
Actually, I know why I brought it up. Because it’s no longer the case. Last night, Volvo waited for me to get to sleep and then started making cars which actually look modern and crisp on the outside, with pale woods and whites on the inside, and ergonomic Swedish thinking everywhere. I might even go so far as to say they have started making cars for trendy urbanites called Brodie and Lauren, rather than just art professors and psychiatrists and Mrs Muppet who had a Swedish friend and liked her and thought the cars must be the same. But I will not make any such judgements. Not until I’ve looked at the new Volvo S90.
The first thing to notice when you do look at the new S90 sedan is that features the latest Volvo trademark, “Thor’s Hammer” daytime running lights. Everyone calls them Thor’s Hammer lights, even Volvo marketing, and makes a great deal of them, to the point where many journalists cannot write an article on the new Volvo without mentioning Thor at least fifteen times. So I’m not going to even speak about them. You won’t see them in this article, anywhere.
The rest of the S90’s exterior is individual too, which is good. The premium large sedan class is a bit like an accountant’s briefcase at the moment, cold and clinical and full of many digits. Germany’s biggest exports, in other words. So it’s refreshing to see a suave Swede swagger into the marketplace, showing everyone that it’s possible to be individualistic without being in any way French. For example, the recessed, concave grille, also on the new Volvo XC90, is a trademark that harks back to the beautiful classic Volvo P1800. But they haven’t gone and called it Thor’s Mouth, which is good, and even if they had, I wouldn’t be mentioning it.
The S90’s interior is simply beautiful. It’s exactly as a 23-year-old IKEA designer would do it. It’s subtle, ergonomic, avant-garde, and just the sort of place you’d want to be if your wife was somewhere outside demanding an explanation for the new Blue Ray player which appeared in the lounge room just over an hour ago. There are pale woods and whites. Subtle silver touches. It’s ambient, but in a contemporary way. The same person who called passionfruit juice “sweet nectar of the gods” would call this interior, “Scandinavian”.
And now to what might have been called Thor’s Heart, but wasn’t, thankfully. The S90 is available with a variety of engines including a reasonable AWD D5 Diesel ($96,000), an AWD T6 Petrol ($98,000), some lacklustre FWDs (about $80,000) and then the one which does the Big Brother EU proud, the electric T8 PHEV – which keeping in line with the tradition of green and greenback walking hand-in-hand down the garden path, is over $120,000, without options. And options add up exponentially, which would be right. It might seem like a trifling thing to get a gulp of Nordic Water with your flat-pack chips at the IKEA bistro, but it’s an option which almost doubles the price of your meal. And a lot of equipment in the S90, such as the DAB radio, which should be standard at the price, isn’t. It’s an option. An option which would have cost you exactly nothing had you not known a Swedish friend and had bought a BMW 5-Series instead. So why wouldn’t you?
Because there is more to life than a DAB radio, or Nordic Water for that matter. And I’m afraid that walking into a German car is like putting on black leather boots. They’re comfortable, they’re substantial, and they do look rather impressive. But they’re a bit soulless. Whereas getting into a Volvo S90 is a bit like slipping on modern, suede-trimmed walking shoes, shoes which make perfect sense, but also have a dash of flair stitched in too. Like an IKEA chair, called Orkôff. It needn’t be pale wood, but it is, and we’re jolly glad it is too.
Photo credit: NetCarShow.com